If you’re anything like me, you became obsessed with short filmmakers on YouTube around summer last year. I can’t remember how long I’ve been watching short films and videos from Hazel Hayes, dodie, Sammy Paul, Bertie Gilbert, Jack Howard, Daniel J Layton, the list goes on and on, but I became pretty obsessed last summer. (I was ill for a few months and had to spend a lot of time in bed, so naturally, I watched YouTube videos 🤷🏼♀️)
Although they each cover different genres, there’s a real, raw creativity in all of their work that I admire a lot and for long-time viewers it’s been so exciting watching this group being able to work on bigger, more ambitious projects. And today I have none other than the wonderful Cambria Bailey-Jones: the producer of many of the videos I watched on repeat last year.
In this industry, it’s very easy to fall into the trap of feeling like you’re in competition with everyone, but I can’t tell you how much more beneficial it is for everyone to help the people around you
Charlotte: Tell me about what you do and what you’re working on.
Cambria: I’m head of production for a lovely online film company called Penny4, so mostly I produce online films, music videos and documentaries. I’m starting to write and direct too – my first directing credit has just gone online! I also write for a games company called Labworks.io.
Working in film
How did you get into filmmaking? Good question! I guess my family had a lot to do with my interest in filmmaking, despite them wanting me to become a scientist (sorry mum). My dad’s a writer, and my mum worked as a broadcast journalist for many years, so I’ve always been around cameras and stories. My friends also massively encouraged (and shaped) my love of film.
I genuinely do think that your producing, editing, directing etc. talent is massively improved by having a working knowledge of what the other departments are up to
More directly, though, I went to university to study psychology, but ended up joining the student television station (and perhaps not going to lectures as much as I should have). I made a lot of films at university (many of questionable quality!), and learnt the hard way about how to compose a shot, film a sequence so you can make sense of it in the edit – and what the 180 line was. Student TV let me play with a lot of different roles from director, to editor to actually filming. I’m very grateful for that experience – I genuinely do think that your producing, editing, directing etc. talent is massively improved by having a working knowledge of what the other departments are up to.
When I left university I was fortunate enough to have a friend already working at a small independent production company. Even more fortunately for me, they were struggling with workload and my friend asked me if I could come in for a week to help them out. I stayed for two and a half years. I genuinely have so much love for this company – it was run by two badass women, and the skills, confidence and experience of the industry I got working for them has stuck with me.
I left this job to do an MA in journalism, and whilst I was finishing my degree an old friend of mine, Sammy Paul, asked if I would produce a music video he was making for our friend dodie. This was my first job producing in the YouTube community, where I still work.
Was producing something you always wanted to do?
Honestly, no! I started off as a performer, and love writing and directing. I was actually fairly reluctant to produce for Sammy when he first asked me. In my head, producing was all numbers and logistics – everything I wasn’t.
I’ve since learnt how creative producing actually is (and how much I do enjoy doing it). When you’re asked to work on a project, you’re usually involved from the very beginning. You shape the idea, the script if there is one – you work with the director closely to make something you’re both happy with. Yes, there are logistics and there is a budget, but I’ve actually found that bit of producing quite rewarding too. I love getting to know the crew I work with, and knowing everything about a project I’m working on – from who likes what camera, to the best rental companies, to what our gaffer likes for lunch. I’m really happy with the team of people I’ve built up around the work we do – and I’m really proud of what we make.
It’s worth the awkwardness of sending that third email…
The other thing I’ve realised, is how many slashes people have in their job titles now. Most people who work in online film have quite a portfolio career. It’s a lot more fluid, so I don’t think anyone should feel stuck in the role that they do. If you want to try something new, there’s such a community of people online who will try doing something new with you. You might not make money doing it at first, but the more you do it, and the more people you meet – the bigger your chance of doing that job professionally becomes.
You produce a lot of YouTube videos such as short films and music videos. How did you get involved with those?
I’m very lucky to have a lot of talented friends. I’ve known people in the YouTube community for about 10 years now, and as they progressed in their own careers, they started needing producers to help them make their stuff. There are surprisingly few producers in the YouTube community, and so when my friend Sammy was asked to direct a music video for dodie’s song 6/10, he asked me if I could spare a couple of weeks to help him make it.
From there, it was a relatively slow 6-9 months. I did a few very fun projects, but wasn’t busy by any means. But in April of this year, I was asked by Penny4 founder Guy Larsen if I would help him start his company in ernest. With a company name, a partnership and some production insurance behind us, we started to get very busy! The last 8 months have been an exhausting but incredible blur. I’ve worked with some very cool people and brands – dodie, Hannah Witton, Bethan Leadley, Instagram, The Midnight Beast, Hazel Hayes, Tom Scott and most recently Anna Akana. Again, I’ve realised it’s all about persistence and showing up. Literally, just being there and saying yes to opportunities that scare you (yup – so many of the opportunities I get scare me) gets you so far.
Is the process for producing a YouTube video different from producing a short film that’s going to festivals?
Yes and no.
Until recently, I’ve always said that short films going to festivals tend to have much bigger crews than YouTube videos. This still holds true to some extent – I recently directed a short film for Tom Scott’s YouTube where we only had a six-strong crew on location. Films like that have a very different feel to productions I’ve worked on with crews of around 30 people. Honestly, I really like working with small crews – it’s a very collaborative experience, which I’m a big fan of.
That being said, YouTube’s stepped up it’s game over the past few years. We’ve started having much bigger crews on location – and it’s so exciting to see the industry grow. The most recent YouTube music video I worked on had a whole (and incredibly talented) art department. It’s so cool showing up to a set you organised and having so many different departments getting things DONE!
It’s so amazing seeing things I write, or things I’ve been producing come alive on set
What motivates you to make films?
The story. I love storytelling, the ideas people bring to narratives and the points you can make with them. I love films that make people think without realising they’re doing it because they’re so absorbed in the story.
It’s so amazing seeing things I write, or things I’ve been producing come alive on set, and then again in the edit, and then again in the sound mix and colour grade. People bring so much of their creativity and talent to movies – I love the process of seeing the story change and grow as it’s handed from person to person.
Is there a specific change that you’d like to see happen soon within the industry?
Accessibility and diversity – they’re the two obvious ones, but they’re also the ones I think about most often. I get so happy when I’m on a set where women are fairly represented, where there are people who can speak many languages, with people who have different backgrounds. I don’t think we’re there yet, and as a producer I have to take responsibility for getting us there. Producers have so much control over who they hire, and I’d like to see more producers (myself included) doing more to overcome the situational ease of hiring someone they know, and hiring someone who needs a break into the industry as a runner, a camera trainee etc.
What is the best thing about your job?
The people I work with, no question. I’ve said this already here, but I’m so obsessed with how many talented people I work with day to day. I worked on a stop motion animation recently – it was a slog, but I genuinely cried a bit watching it all together for the first time. All the artists we worked with on the project did such an incredible job.
Which project did you most enjoy working on, and which project taught you the most?
I loved writing and directing a film for Tom Scott, which came out recently. It was a film about the morality of digitally backing up a human brain in a computer – does that back up have its own life? Is it conscious? Tom had asked us, though, if we could write it in the style of a convincing YouTube prank video from 20 years time. It was so much fun to play with genre – we really tried hard to replicate the feel of watching a prank video as much as possible, with a healthy dose ethics thrown in. This film had a very small crew behind it, so I definitely felt that it was a very collaborative and creative project. I loved the post production process on it, because each time I got a new edit, I saw the film come to life that little bit more, which is very rewarding. Our cast were also brilliant.
I also really enjoyed making a music video I just produced for Anna Akana. It also definitely taught me a lot. I didn’t budget for any production help, so I was the only producer on a production with a bigger budget than I was used to. It was good to push myself, but I’d definitely prioritise an assistant producer if I were to do it again. That being said, I sort of forgot about any production stress when I got to set. It was so wonderful seeing the crew I’d found making the most fabulous looking things. Also the style of filming made it a very fun, almost theatrical, shoot to be on.
Those were a couple highlights for me, but if I look back at 2018, I’ll definitely remember some of the projects I did over the summer – a lovely video for Bethan Leadley, a fabulous video for the Midnight Beast (starring one talented kid), a video for Tom Scott parodying music videos… I also had a great (if mental!) time producing a music video for dodie’s Human in less than a week.
Every project has built on what I already know – so it’s hard to pin down one particular video that taught me the most. This is the best argument I have for making lots of things and putting them out in the world, even if they’re not anywhere near perfect. It takes a lot of hours of work before you start to get good at something!
Look for people who are different to you, who you can learn the most from
Have you got any advice for anyone looking to get into filmmaking?
I owe so much of my career to my friends, so without a doubt my biggest piece of advice is to surround yourself with cool people. If you haven’t been able to study film, and don’t have any contacts, find the local filmmaking meetups, go to the drinks afterwards even if you feel a little awkward. Join your school or university’s filmmaking or student television society!! You’ll meet such interesting, creative, inspirational people. Look for people who are different to you, who you can learn the most from. When you get opportunities, lift others up, and let them lift you up when they have opportunities. In this industry, it’s very easy to fall into the trap of feeling like you’re in competition with everyone, but I can’t tell you how much more beneficial it is for everyone to help the people around you. I work with a few gaffers who all recommend each other when they’re not available for jobs – they all get a lot more work that way, even though they’re all technically competing for the same jobs!
Make bad things – you’ll get better. Your script is so important! Show it to people, and listen to their feedback. Your story will make or break your film. Be nice to everyone, but stand up for yourself (a hard balance, I know). An important one – talk to others about your rate! It will help you see when you’re being underpaid (you probably will still be underpaid many times, but talking to your peers about it is so important). And keep going! It’s sometimes a stressful industry, but it’s also a fun one. You get a lot of knocks back, but be persistent. It’s worth the awkwardness of sending that third email…